January 21, 2010
With a little less than two minutes remaining, the Bulls were down only four points (95-91) and it looked like they had a realistic shot at stealing this game away from the hometown Clippers. That’s when Steve Nash’s good buddy Baron Davis came down court on a controlled fast break, pulled up just outside the three-point arc, pump-faked Tyrus Thomas into the air, and then jumped right into Chicago’s big man. Davis screamed, flailed his arms and heaved the ball into the air. Whistle. Foul. Three free throw attempts.
That was when I knew the game was over.
Sure, Davis hit only two of the three freebies, but the whole play was a dagger into the heart of Chicago’s comeback attempt. And, honestly, I hate those kinds of plays. Thomas probably wasn’t going to run into Davis, and Davis obviously initiated the contact by intentionally jumping into Thomas. Yet the refs almost always make that call in favor of the offensive player. It’s bogus. Still…Tyrus should have known better. I guess.
All that said, NBA games rarely come down to one play. However, that sequence was indicative of the fact that, overall, the Clippers — yes, the Clippers — played better basketball on the whole. They used aggressiveness and savvy to earn trips to the line, which explains their 39-26 advantage in free throw attempts. Of course, in true Clipper fashion, L.A. missed 16 of those foul shots. Fortunately for them, the Bulls missed nine of theirs.
The Basketball Gods giveth, and They taketh away.
But make or miss, earning free throws in the NBA is like having a great running game in the NFL. It allows a team to set the tempo and control the game. L.A. definitely had the tempo advantage, which showed itself in a 24-10 advantage in fast break points. Yes, you could say that Chicago’s transition defense was something of a problem.
Another problem was the play of Derrick Rose. His final stat line looks great. I mean, he nearly had a triple-double (23 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 blocked shots and a steal). But what bothered me was the fact that he made only two trips to the line all night, and only one trip in the fourth quarter (at which point he missed one of two). Rose was far too willing to pull up for jump shots. In fact, 15 of his 24 field goal attempts were jumpers. When I consider that, all I can think of is Davis making that play to earn those killer free throws in the fourth quarter. That’s how you finish games. Derrick really needs to start learning how to draw fouls. I hated the call that went Baron’s way, but I would have been cheering had Rose pulled it off.
Of course, according to one shot chart, Rose was only 4-for-8 on layup attempts, and he obviously wasn’t earning trips to the line, so maybe the Clippers simply did a good job closing down the paint. In fact, as a team, the Bulls went 11-for-24 (45 percent) on layups and tip shots — and 17-for-33 at the rim (51.6 percent) — so they totally lived down to their rep as one of the worst at-the-rim teams in the league.
Is it better to miss layups or jump shots? Can we get Vinny Del Negro’s take on that?
Chicago also missed John Salmons, who missed the game due to flu-like symptoms. Without the Fish Man — who’s hitting 56 percent of his treys in January — the Bulls had no three-point shooting to speak of and finished 2-for-11 from beyond the arc (including Kirk Hinrich’s 0-for-7 stink bomb). By comparison, the Clips were 5-for-11.
Things weren’t much better on the inside, where the Bulls struggled to contain L.A.’s frontcourt trio of Chris Kaman (20 points, 8 boards, 11 free throw attempts), Marcus Camby (25 rebounds) and Al Thornton (17 points, 7-for-9). It’s worth noting, however, that Chicago got a pretty solid contribution from their own frontcourt contingent of Luol Deng (19 points, 10 rebounds), Joakim Noah (14 points, 15 boards, 3 blocked shots) and Thomas (18 points, 8-for-11, 3 blocks). In fact, Thomas fans could use this game as Exhibit A in the Case for Tyrus Playing 30+ Minutes a Game. Of course, he could get 30+ minutes in the next game and submit Exhibit A in the Case for Tyrus Heading Back to the Bench. You never know with him.
In the final analysis, the Bulls got outplayed by a fairly small margin by a Clippers team that’s not all that bad when healthy. (L.A. recently lost four in a row, including a 40-point drubbing by the Lakers, while Kaman was out with an injury.) Still…opening their seven-game Western Conference road trip with losses to the Warriors and Clippers bodes ill. Chicago’s next five games are in Phoenix, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and New Orleans.
Like I said a few days ago, an 0-7 trip isn’t out of the question.
D.J. Foster of ClipperBlog: “The Clippers’ bench built the lead to 14 at the 6:35 mark of the fourth, but the Bulls came roaring back behind some transition opportunities and quick pick and rolls early in the shot clock. After a Noah dunk at the 4:09 mark of the fourth, the Clippers lead was suddenly down to four. Enter Baron Davis. A cringe inducing three point attempt fell first, then a 19-footer the next possession, then a heady pump fake to draw the foul on a three point attempt. After knocking down 2 of 3 from the stripe, the Bulls continued to answer didn’t go away until Baron hit a runner and eventually iced the game with two free throws late. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 9 huge points in the final 4 minutes. Baron’s play down the stretch was clutch scoring at its finest.”
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.
January 29, 2009
Yesterday afternoon, I received an email from fellow TrueHoop Network member Kevin Arnovitz of ClipperBlog informing me that Baron Davis was probable for the Bulls-Clippers game. My heart sank. My heart threatened to hop out of my chest and go watch figure skating instead when, right before tipoff, I realized that Marcus Camby also was going to play. Not exactly Magic and Kareem*, I know, but here’s something I couldn’t help but to have noticed over the years: In many cases (if not most), NBA teams choose home games against bad teams to bring back injured players. Especially stars.
(*It’s kind of sad that the Clips don’t have their own great former guard/center combo I could use for that example.)
And it makes sense, if you think about it. It pumps up the team and the fans, and it lets the returning player (or players) get their feet wet against lesser competition…usually with very good results. I mean, did you see what Orlando’s Mickael Pietrus did to the Pacers the other night?
Davis and Camby were understandably rusty during the first half. But, luckily for L.A.’s Other Team, the Bulls were sloppy (10 turnovers through quarters one and two) and failed to capitalize on a strong first quarter one-two punch from Luol Deng and Derrick Rose (who combined for 21 of the team’s 24 points).
I was nervous and twitchy during those initial 24 minutes. Against my wishes, Vinny Del Negro gave Aaron Gray some daylight in the first half. The big man quickly earned an “And one!” off a nifty jump hook, after which (per usual) the Bulls broadcastng team of Stacey King and Neil Funk tried very hard to talk themselves and their listeners into Gray’s potential. Sadly, the Gray Experiment quickly fell apart and resulted in three quick turnovers: One when Aaron traveled on a post move and two back-to-back as the Chicago guards tried to force the ball into him. So much for that. Gray did finish the game with 9 points but also had more fouls (2) than rebounds (1).
The Bulls completed the first half of action with a 47-44 lead. My palms were sweaty. I figured it was a tease. The Clippers would come out fired up and take control of the game with a big third-quarter run. Right scenario, wrong team. The Bulls outscored the Clips 26-9 in the third stanza and the game was pretty much over. L.A. never got any closer than 15 points the rest of the way.
Several Chicago players had really strong games. That’ll happen when the other team can’t be bothered to play defense. Luol Deng scored a game-high 23 points (on 10-for-17 shooting) to go along with his 9 rebounds. Derrick Rose added 21 points (9-for-13), 6 assists and (ugh) 5 turnovers. Tyrus Thomas finished with a double-double (16 points, 10 boards) although, typically, he took way too many jumpers (eight of ‘em, of which he hit two). Joakim Noah almost had double-double (10 points, 8 rebounds) plus a game-high 4 blocked shots. Ben Gordon shot only 4-for-12, but he did have a season-high 8 assists.
On the flipside, the Clippers, well, they are who we thought they were. L.A. shot 36 percent as a team and didn’t get much out of their returnees: B-Diddy finished with 3 points on 1-for-10 shooting and The Camby Man had 6 points (1-for-3) and 6 boards. Rookie Eric Gordon led his team with 19 points (6-for-16), 7 assists and a game-high 6 turnovers. Oh, and just like when the teams met in December, Eric fouled Ben on a three-point shot, only with far less drama.
It was the Bulls biggest win of the season, both in terms of final margin (95-75) and its effect on the team psyche. Losing this game might have been like slamming a couple photon torpedoes into their Starship Enterprise. And Vinny Del Negro was suitably relieved afterwards: “I thought our ball movement was the difference. We had a good flow tonight. Winning builds confidence, that’s the bottom line. We just have to build, play smarter, execute better down the stretch. I like our mind-set right now.”
Blowing out bad teams on the road can do wonders for the mind-set of a struggling team. And their coach. But Vinny should probably keep in mind that, coming into the game, the Clippers had lost 16 of 18 games. Now it’s 17 of 19. They have only 10 wins on the year. I’m just saying: Let’s keep things in perspective.
But let’s also enjoy the win.
Extras: Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos. Plus, go read Kevin’s writeup on ClipperBlog!
John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: “As hard as it might be to believe, the Bulls actually found an opponent struggling more than them. And this time, they took advantage of the soft spot in the schedule to snap a five-game losing streak with a 95-75 rout of the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night at Staples Center. That’s not a misprint. The 20-point margin of victory is the Bulls’ biggest of season. ‘We haven’t had a blowout win or a decent lead in a while,’ rookie point guard Derrick Rose said. ‘It feels good just to put it together like that.’”
Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times: “Behind door No. 1: Baron Davis. And there was a surprise guest behind door No. 2: Marcus Camby. Despite those seemingly uplifting developments, the door slammed shut on the Clippers once again with the Bulls manhandling them, 95-75, on Wednesday night at Staples Center. Hitting the snooze button in the third quarter — letting the Bulls go on a 20-6 run — was their undoing. Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy said his team ‘laid an egg’ in the third quarter. That’s been a second-half trend, of late. It was the Clippers 17th loss in their last 19 games and third straight after Friday’s win against Oklahoma City. They are 10-35.”
John Nadel of the Associated Press: “By beating the Clippers for the third straight time, after losing 13 of the previous 15 games between the teams, the Bulls avoided their longest losing streak since early in the 2006-07 season. Chicago has won six of its last 19 games.”
Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: “This was the Bulls’ first blowout win since they beat Phoenix by 17 on Nov. 7. With the game well out of reach in the fourth quarter, guard Lindsey Hunter saw his first game action since Jan. 10, but guard Larry Hughes stayed on the bench throughout. Hughes hasn’t played since Jan. 12 and his agent has been given permission to try to facilitate a trade. But Hughes said before the game he’s ready to take the court. ‘If they call my name, I’m going to play,’ he said. ‘I haven’t shut down. There’s still a lot of season left. Mentally, I’m in it. I continue to work out. The only thing I’m not doing right now is playing in the games.’”
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “On the day he learned he would play in the Rookie Challenge and that his jersey ranks as the ninth-highest seller in the league, Derrick Rose also confirmed he would participate in the skills challenge as part of NBA All-Star weekend. ‘I’ve put a lot of thought into it and I’m going to do it,’ Rose said after the Bulls’ shootaround at a local health club. ‘This could be a once-in-a-lifetime thing.’ That thought is doubtful, but representative of the genuine humility of Rose, whose next appearance at All-Star weekend could be as part of the big-boys game.”
Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune: “Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro worked for Steve Kerr with the Phoenix Suns, and Kerr believes his former assistant GM has what it takes to survive the team’s recent struggles. ‘Vinny is a really bright guy. Very smart and hard-working,’ Kerr said Wednesday from Phoenix. ‘He’s good with people.’ The Bulls entered Wednesday night’s Clippers game with a five-game losing streak. Being an NBA coach ‘is a very difficult job, unbelievably difficult,’ Kerr said. ‘Even more so when you are new at it and you don’t have [head-coaching] experience. He’s going through what everybody has to go through at the beginning of their career. It’s not easy.’”